Sun, Oct 21, 2012 - Page 14 News List

Man defies war, builds juice firm in Afghanistan

By Rob Taylor  /  Reuters, KABUL

The concentrate is packed into vacuum bags which then fill huge green drums shipped in from Russia. Next door a separate factory squirts fresh juice into shop-ready packs at a rate of 7,000 250ml cartons an hour.

Winning export business is vital, given almost all Afghanistan’s food is imported, meaning Omaid Bahar must comply with quality standards enforced in Europe and elsewhere — no easy task amid the chaos of his country.

“Here we don’t have an insurance system. Police at the Tajikistan border wanted to open our containers and I said if they open it, the concentrate will spoil in 24 hours. We had to turn around and take another way to Kyrgyzstan,” Sadiq’s troubleshooting factory manager Abdul Rahman said.

Sadiq’s factory is only the first stage of a plan he expects to cost another US$70 million and deliver new lines in yogurts and fruit-flavored milk, as well as jams and jellies.

He is close to agreeing a new venture to sell concentrate in smaller packets in the US, he said, while distribution offices and warehouses in 12 Afghan provinces will expand next year to all 34 provinces.

The company is also negotiating with the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces and NATO to supply them with fruit juices in what would be a multimillion-dollar coup.

To secure his supply lines from around 35,000 farmers who sell Omaid Bahar 40,000 tonnes of fruit each year along routes that pass through Taliban strongholds in the south, Sadiq is also shifting Afghan farming practices from horse and plough to modern methods.

He is testing pilot farms with yield-improving drip irrigation and mechanized harvesting, and looking to import dairy cows to supply milk products, which would reduce reliance on imports via Pakistan after cross-border security closures.

“It is already, I would say, a profitable business. It can become much more profitable,” he said, without offering hard figures, which he worries could benefit his competitors.

In its most recent Afghanistan assessment, the World Bank said while growth reached 8.4 percent in 2010 and last year, bolstered by big aid flows, the NATO pullout could halve that rate.

Sadiq said Afghans and foreigners tended to overreact to the dangers the country faces, including his own parents, who fled to Europe when the Soviet Union invaded in 1979. He fled the 1990s civil war after returning briefly as the Soviets withdrew from their Afghan quagmire.

“I myself expect that these troubles, these uncertainties, [will last] for the next 50 years and for the next generation to come. But it is our country, we have to build it, we have to live here. And only then we can bring peace,” he said.

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